April 23, 2018

Promoting AOD health and safety at work

worksite builder

In April we had an opportunity to highlight the impact that alcohol and other drugs (AOD) can have in the workplace. This day marked World Day for Safety and Health at Work and Workers’ Memorial Day: a time to promote workplace safety and to honour people who have died from injury or illness caused by work.

Alcohol and other drugs at work

With one in 20 Australian workers admitting that they have worked under the influence of alcohol,1 we need to be talking about the negative outcomes — including physical injury or death, but also other harms — that may be caused or sustained by someone working while affected by AOD.

It’s also important that we understand that some workplace sectors, and workplace cultures, may increase levels of risky alcohol consumption.

For example, those working in industries such as construction, financial services, manufacturing, hospitality and agriculture are at a higher risk of alcohol-related harms than those in many other workplace types.2

Additionally, workplace factors such as high stress environments, social isolation, shift work, and insecure employment, as well as workplace experiences of discrimination, harassment and conflict, may also be conducive to increases in risky alcohol consumption.2

But working directly under the influence of alcohol or other drugs isn’t the only source of AOD-related harm.

It’s not just on the day

It can be easy to forget that the after-effects of AOD use, particularly intensive use, also has negative impacts on the workplace that can result in serious health and safety harms.

Being hungover from alcohol, coming down off other drugs, or simply being exhausted by a big weekend of use, can all impact on someone’s ability to concentrate, think and react quickly, and make good decisions.

Depending on the work that person is undertaking, this reduced performance could lead to annoying errors or mistakes – or the harms could be much more severe. And the impacts can fall on one or more people in addition to the person affected by AOD.

One in 10 workers say they’ve experienced negative effects from a co-worker’s use of alcohol.3 This includes:

  • being involved in an accident or close call
  • their reduced ability to do their job
  • having to work extra hours to cover for a co-worker
  • a co-worker taking at one or more days off work.

What workers and workplaces can do

In the spirit of World Day for Safety and Health at Work and Workers’ Memorial Day, there are steps that we can encourage workers to ask their workplaces to take around AOD.

  1. Establishing a clear policy about alcohol and other drugs in the workplace, including how incidents will be managed
  2. Making a support service, such as an Employee Assistance Program, available to help workers and managers deal with AOD issues they may be experiencing (this should not be limited to alcohol and other drugs, but also include ways to deal with stress, conflict, bullying, etc.)
  3. Taking steps to regularly educate employees about alcohol and other drugs, including the potential impacts at work, at home, and to employees’ long-term health and wellbeing.

We spend much of our lives in the work environment.

Taking the steps to ensure that people are well supported at work — particularly if they work in a high-risk environment — could make a real difference to reducing the harms from AOD in Australia.

  1. Pidd, K., Roche, A.M., Buisman-Pijlman, F. (2011) Intoxicated workers: findings from a national Australian survey. Addiction, 106, 1623-1633.
  2. VicHealth. (2012) Reducing alcohol-related harm in the workplace (An evidence review: summary report). Victorian Heath Promotion Foundation, Melbourne, Australia.
  3. Dale, C. & Livingston, M. (2010). The burden of alcohol drinking on co-workers in the Australian workplace, Medical Journal of Australia, 193(3), 138-140.

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